BOSTON — Don’t count these Red Sox out just yet.
After falling as many as 10 games back in the American League East, Boston has mounted a furious pre-All-Star break rally, scoring wins in seven of its last nine games to pull to within five games of the first-place New York Yankees in the division standings.
The Red Sox knocked off the visiting Miami Marlins 4-3 on Tuesday, and they’ll host Miami once more Wednesday before welcoming the Yankees to Fenway Park for a three-game weekend set that will close out the season’s unofficial first half.
While the Sox are guaranteed to enter that series in last place in the AL East, a strong showing against the Bronx Bombers would go a long way toward improving Boston’s chances in what has been the worst division in baseball this season.
But before we worry about that, let’s dive into a few notes from Tuesday’s action.
— Mike Napoli’s ongoing struggles opened up a spot in the lineup for first baseman Travis Shaw, whom the team recalled Tuesday from Triple-A Pawtucket.
After finding little success at the plate in each of his previous call-ups, Shaw finally broke through against the Marlins. He recorded his first career hit — a single — in the second inning, then proceeded to add two additional base knocks to finish the night 3-for-4 with a run scored.
The 25-year-old had entered the game hitless in nine career major league at-bats.
“Good swings,” manager John Farrell said after the game. “Even before he gets his first big league hit here (Tuesday night), when he was with us previously, he took some good swings on some pitches. You get a chance to see a guy over a couple of spring trainings, and you see their confidence, their maturity — his has come a long way in probably the two years that he’s been in big league camp and spring training. But he’s balanced, and he’s staying through the middle of the field very well.”
Making the night even more memorable for Shaw — the son of former major league reliever Jeff Shaw — was the fact that it came on his father’s birthday.
“He’s probably going to be more pumped than I was,” Shaw said, the ball from his first hit sitting in his locker beside him. “It’s his birthday today, so hopefully that was a good birthday present for him.”
— Koji Uehara pitched a perfect ninth inning to lock down his 20th save of the season, gaining him entry into an exclusive closers’ club.
Uehara is just the sixth pitcher to record a 20-save season after his 40th birthday, joining Hoyt Wilhelm, Doug Jones, Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera and former Red Sox closer Dennis Eckersley. He’s also now one of only four Boston hurlers to notch 20 saves three times. The three others? Jonathan Papelbon (six), Dick Radatz (four) and Jeff Reardon (three).
Uehara’s resurgence — he’s allowed just one hit and zero runs over his last eight outings and has not blown a save since May 31 — comes on the heels of a brutal end to the 2014 season that raised the question of whether the 40-year-old’s best days were behind him.
While he’s recently had some rough showings in non-save situations and hasn’t looked quite as dominant as he did in 2013, the veteran right-hander is proving he still has plenty left in the tank.
“We had seen some things over the course of his career while he’s been in the States where there’s been some usage patterns that have kind of led to some of the downturn performance, where he’s throwing a high number of pitches over a period of time,” Farrell said. “That was the case last year again.
“But we felt confident going into the offseason that he’d rebound from that, and once he came back to us after some delays in spring training, and probably after his first three or four appearances, he’s been Koji-like consistent with the last two years here.”
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images